An explosion Friday night at an unoccupied cabin in the Serene Lakes development near Donner Summit completely destroyed the three-story structure. The 10:19 p.m. blast sent debris flying hundreds of feet from the structure. The source of the ignition has not been identified. No one was injured in the blast.
Public safety officials are conferring on how to proceed with an appropriate course of action to protect public safety due to the existence of multiple other leaking propane tanks on which they have been working since late March. The public is being asked to stay out of the area as emergency crews and public safety officials deal with the growing problem of leaking propane tanks. Two dozen sites in the eastern end of Placer County have been affected by leaking propane since the extraordinary snowfall in March. Nearly all of the leak-related sites have been in the Serene Lakes area. Placer County today issued a proclamation of local emergency, effective the date when leaks were first discovered.
The owners of the cabin that exploded were notified and they confirmed that the Bales Road cabin was unoccupied. The site of the explosion had not been identified as having a propane-related issue. Propane had been detected at an adjacent cabin on Bales Road, and that leak had been cleaned up.
An incident command post has been set up in Serene Lakes to deal with the increasing number of sites where propane has been detected. Truckee Fire Protection District, along with the Placer County Sheriff’s Office, and the Offices of Environmental Health and Emergency Services are continuing to work on remediating leaking propane lines in the Serene Lakes area
The situation remains active as new leaks are detected. Warming weather has helped to dissipate some of the propane vapor that has leaked into the adjoining snowpack. Thawing and freezing snow causes the snow to crust over making it harder for the propane to find a pathway out of the snowpack. Propane vapor is heavier than air and seeks the path of least resistance while flowing downhill similar to water.
The weight of an extraordinary snowpack this year has damaged pipes, valves, regulators and tanks, which has led to leaks. While there are no street closures currently in effect, there are individual residences that have been closed off with snow berms and entry is prohibited until propane levels dissipate.
Accessing the buried propane tanks has proven a challenge. The use of snow blowers, front loaders and snow plows can be problematic.
Anyone who smells propane or natural gas inside or outside a building should call 911. They also should avoid smoking, starting engines or motors, turning on cooking appliances, using heating-air conditioning systems or using other ignition sources if they smell propane or natural gas. They should also avoid any activity that can create a spark that might ignite propane. Even flipping on a light switch can create an ignition source.
Safety tips for the proper care of propane tanks during severe weather can be seen by clicking the following link: Propane Safety.
Placer County will continue to issue updates as the situation dictates.